By Bola Bolawole
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We start the third part of our subject matter today with the views of three thoroughbred professionals that journalism has produced in this country; the first is Steve Osuji, the journalist par excellence whom Oga Ray Ekpu, in his defence of Funtua, cynically and condescendingly referred to as “someone” and “the fellow”. Oh no, Mr. Ray Ekpu! Respect, as they say, begets respect. Besides, Osuji is not an unknown quantity in Nigerian journalism. He has made important contributions and, I dare to say, he has paid his dues and is still firing on all cylinders. To trample him so whimsically is to expose your own good self to being trampled as well.
Titled “Ismaila Funtua: At times like this, one’s ashamed to be a journalist in Nigeria, Osuji declared the ‘honour’ “a most dubious honour”. In many unflattering terms – and fittingly so – Osuji described the ‘honour’ as undeserved and advanced a plethora of reasons to buttress his position. Finally, he demanded that the decision be rescinded or else “I shall renounce my membership of the NGE and NUJ. I shall boycott the NIJ House. I shall seek every opportunity to campaign against this travesty and canvass that all journalists of goodwill should do the same”
In “Controversy, Ismaila Funtua, NPO, NIJ and the search for honour”, Lanre Idowu, CEO of Diamond Publications (of the DAME awards fame), reviewed what were touted as Funtua’s contributions to journalism after which he posed and answered the following questions: “Was it appropriate to seek to honour (Funtua) for his contributions? Yes. Was re-naming the NIJ House the appropriate honour? No. Was the speed to carry out the name change suspicious? Yes”. He then signed off with this: “Isa’s antecedents are not enough to cast him solely as an unassailable media hero whose name should replace the NIJ House”
Respected journalism teacher and inimitable columnist, Dr. Olatunji Dare, in “A misbegotten re-christening”, said when he learnt “that the Nigerian Press Organisation, of all, had re-named the NIJ House … for Isa Funtua barely a week after his death, my heart sank” He then wondered whether “the inversion of values and the failure of leadership so characteristic of our national life that the news media are forever lamenting – have these same ailments finally caught up with the media as an institution and emasculated them at a time when their critical insights and capacity for fine discrimination have never been in greater demand?”
Dr. Dare punctured the reasons advanced by the protagonists of this ‘honour’ either on account of Funtua’s personal qualifications or of those of his defunct newspaper, The Democrat, saying, “ there was nothing ‘democratic’ in or about The Democrat newspaper” adding that there was also nothing in the vaunted service to journalism of Funtua that “qualify him to be called an ‘icon’ of journalism, that Jabberwock that has now come to denote the ultimate status, especially when, as in this instance, it does not flow from solid and enduring accomplishment”
Well said! Some have argued that we should let Funtua rest in peace! Of course, he already has his peace, far away from the call of cabalial duties at the Presidential villa! Scripture says it is given unto man to die but once; after that, judgment. Also, that nothing for good or for evil can be added to someone who is dead. So, these write-ups are not about the dead but about the living. Those who took the decision under review are the ones being called upon to give account. The dead are already beyond our reach. Those who awarded the honour are the ones mired in – and smeared by – this controversy.
Besides, we must begin to review so-called customs and traditions that are not only anachronistic but also retrogressive and scandalous, such as “say no evil of the dead” If the dead worked evil, he deserves that the evil he worked be said about him at his demise. That way, maybe others will take notice and turn from their evil ways. It was the evil that was said of Alfred Nobel when he was taken for dead that caused the dramatic change in his life, thus giving the world the Nobel Prize that runs to this day.
It is also in this light that I side with ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo in his comments on Buruji Kashamu, who passed on last week. Let both the good and evil deeds of Kashamu – and, indeed, of all men and women, including yours truly and Obasanjo himself when everyone’s own time comes – be openly canvassed! Let both the good and the evil that men do live after them so that others may learn useful lessons and our world can become a better place. Why white-wash evil people and pass them off as saints like ex-Gov. Ayo Fayose seemed to have canvassed? Why must we be economical with the truth like the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu appeared to have suggested? If anyone needs such deceit and playing to the gallery, it is not the dead!
But I digress! Nduka Obaigbena, publisher of This Day newspaper, announced the controversial honour for Funtua. He claimed to have acted as the NPAN president. Obaigbena was first elected in May 2011; he took over from Chief Ajibola Ogunshola, erstwhile Chairman of PUNCH newspapers who resigned midway into his second – and final?- NPAN two-year tenure on account of his retiring as the PUNCH chairman. Ogunshola saw no reason to remain as NPAN president a day longer than his chairmanship of the PUNCH allowed. Despite pressure on him to complete his second term, he stepped down. In that respect, that is integrity! That is the path of honour!
Obaigbena was re-elected in August 2014. That was six years ago! Has the NPAN presidency become chieftaincy title? Will Obaigbena hold the office for life just like Funtua held office as NIJ Board chairman for life?
But these titans of the media should have known better and acted wiser! In 1995, hell was let loose in Kaduna, fire and brimstones were threatened at the NPAN conference of that year as office-seekers insisted that MKO Abiola must be replaced as NPAN president (while he was still in incarceration fighting for his June 12, 1993 mandate). They said Abiola’s term had elapsed. They had their way. Funtua was the beneficiary as he succeeded MKO Abiola as NPAN president! And Ray Ekpu became his right-hand man as he was elected the NPAN General Secretary!
Sigmund Freud was right: History can be so uncanny! With the benefit of hindsight, we can do the simple arithmetic of adding two and two; dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s! To be concluded next week!
I noted with interest the action of a few journalists regarded by their colleagues as pillars of the profession in the naming of the NIJ House after Isa Funtua. This may not have been done without the unseen fifth columnist’s hand. Sometimes, we outside the profession wonder whether the professionals amongst the journalists have an ethical duty to the profession or moral duty to themselves and the society at large or even whether they are sensitive enough to ask: What will people within and outside say of me about this? Here was a man that was not afraid to pronounce himself “the only cabal in Buhari’s government and that if people don’t like it they should learn to deal with it” Buhari himself acknowledged him as having been controversially the MOST valuable man to his government. It leaves one to wonder whether Funtua didn’t have a cabinet of his own aside from Federal cabinet ministers! These elements single-handedly wrecked the economy with their alleged CBN private dollar foreign exchange transactions so much so that within five years, they had reportedly amassed over $1.6 billion dollars with which they became owners of mobile telephone networks, banks, major landlords in Abuja and several grain-trading companies in Kano and many more! It looks like the North is adept at using a few of us against all of us. Sorry for Ray Ekpu! He should provide us with anywhere in the North where a Southern icon’s name is planted, be it street, building or major Federally-owned facility other than the Abuja Airport named after Azikiwe. We outside the journalism profession demand a reversal of this action! – Clifford Olatunji.
Allowing the indignity of NPO’s beatification of Isa Funtua to become the emblem and symbol of the NPO’s chambers is writing infamy into the ethos of the organization forever. Evil men forget that the evil that men do lives after them. A man like Isa Funtua, who named himself singularly as the cabal, must have had enough “cabalian” acts under his belt to feel so deserving. And not a few people feel the qualifier quite appropriate; I never heard any challenge to it. As the acts that earned the name gradually start to unravel, the NPO will find itself cringing in embarrassment. That is why this sacred duty should never have been discharged in a hurry; it is also a good reason for the NPO to reverse it now and save itself from perpetual opprobrium – GAB.